At last night’s board meeting, numerous members of the Veterans Club confronted the board about the failure of the administration and board to foresee the cut of the proposed Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic on campus that they fought so hard for the past two years.
With over 10 public comments from the Veterans Club, the board chose not to respond and the veterans left the meeting in protest.
“As veterans we know what leadership looks like and we know what the opposite of leadership looks like,” said Veterans Club Adviser Harold “Doc” Martin.
Over the past two years, members of the Veterans Club have been working with Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, and Sons of The American Legion along with school officials and others in the community, relentlessly trying to build a VA clinic on campus only to find out recently that it was actually never going to be possible.
“It’s still unclear to this day why it’s taken so long because I do know the reason why they’re not doing it anymore and it has to do with legal issues,” said Veterans Club President Edwin Lopez. “But if it were legal issues then either the VA or PCC’s lawyers should have known at least somewhere in the beginning but we didn’t find out until two and a half years later.”
Many in the Veterans Club are upset with the administration and their lack of transparency during the whole process.
“We didn’t receive any updates that whole time. They [would] just kind of say, ‘Well, we’re still working on it,’ and that doesn’t mean anything,” Lopez said.
Two months ago the club was given permission by the board to fundraise, which resulted in them raising over $400,000 in donations from private donors, clubs and individuals in the community. With those donors invested in a clinic, Lopez is left having to give answers he doesn’t have.
“Everyone was waiting for an answer and the pressure came onto us and we had to do something about it and that’s what we did so we asked the questions,” Lopez said. “These are all questions that are still being answered and basically our admission right now is to get some answers. For example, where does the money go? I’ve heard [from Superintendent-President Dr. Rajen Vurdien] we can just give that money back but it doesn’t work that way because these people who donated the money have lost time and interest and who’s responsible?”
Lopez is referring to the last president’s forum when several members of the Veterans Club addressed their concerns about the clinic to Vurdien and were finally met with answers.
“The college through its legal counsel was working with the VA’s legal counsel and the final report that came out indicated that the college can work with the VA if certain things are met,” Vurdien said.
Vurdien described three reasons from the final report as to why PCC would not be able to work with the VA.
The first reason he stated was in regards to a joint powers agreement, meaning that PCC and the VA would need to implement equally all powers that are common to each of them for the purpose of achieving specific goals, and according to Vurdien, “the VA’s legal counsel don’t do joint powers with colleges and universities.”
The second reason he stated had to do with a joint use agreement, which is a formal agreement between PCC, a state agency, and the VA,a federal agency, establishing the terms and conditions for the shared use of the clinic.
According to Vurdien, “the VA’s counsel said ‘no we don’t do joint use agreements because whatever we do we run by ourselves.’”
The final cause he stated had to do with the VA wanting a revocable license agreement, and according to Vurdien, “the state of California and federal law do not allow for community colleges to enter in revocable licenses with any federal agency.”
Not only was the community on and off campus in full support of the clinic, several congress members, including Congresswoman Judy Chu, were in favor of PCC being the first college with a VA clinic.
“The VA is fully aware of it and the VA fully understands that this cannot be done,” Vurdien said. “Congresswoman Chu was appraised of all this. Her office understands it and we have put congresswoman Chu’s office in contact with Pasadena, and the city is working with Congresswoman Chu’s office to identify a location that can be used to address the concern that you just raised that is to provide some type of medical services to veterans. This is where we are right now.”
At the last board meeting, veteran Christopher Villalobos spoke on behalf of the Veterans Club before the board and insisted they consider putting the clinic on the agenda and vote, making it the last step they would need in order to turn their dream into a reality.
“I can urge you that this clinic is in favor not only for the soldiers, the sailors, and the marines, for every student on campus,” he said. “This creates something to take even more pride in and I urge each and every one of you to think about this and place this on your agenda.”
The board did not respond to Villalobos’ comments or request.
If PCC’s legal counsel and the VA’s legal counsel were able to work together and build the clinic, it would be the first VA clinic on a college campus.
“We would’ve been the first ones … it would be the first time ever a college would establish such a thing and so that would’ve made PCC look great,” Lopez said at the forum. “You probably want to question their leadership at this point because that doesn’t make them look good … We have addressed and overcome many obstacles to make this a reality. Unfortunately there are members of this administration that do not support the clinic but know very well that the community does.”
Before the club fundraised the money for the clinic, the school had funds for a separate project relating to the Veterans Resource Center (VRC) but put that on hold when they started pushing for the clinic.
“I want to reassure the veterans that we have money set aside to work on the area where the veterans resource center is so that area is going to be slightly expanded and the services there will be significantly improved once everything at the college is done and taken care of so we will be working on that,” Vurdien said at the forum. “We will be expanding that area, renovating it and making things happen for all the veterans because we believe in the services you have rendered in this country. We want to provide you with the best support, the best mentoring we can provide you because we don’t want you to stay here forever.”
Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Cynthia Olivo was quick to jump to Vurdien’s aid and remind the veterans of all the programs, services and positions the school has created the past eight years in support of the veteran students.
“We have since 2008 created a new course, Boots to Books; we have a veteran’s resource center, which we didn’t have eight years ago. On top of that we have a classified staff position, which is a permanent position, we have reassigned time for your counselor at 50 percent reassigned time to coordinate the VRC. We created a veterans resource collaborative, which includes sections of courses. The board of trustees approved a $250,000 annual operating budget,” Olivo said. “I’m saying all these things to demonstrate the commitment this college has to you veterans. We appreciate your service to our country and we’ve demonstrated it through our actions, not just in words. If we couldn’t get this to happen, it’s not because we didn’t try. We tried very hard and the community supported it by putting forward donations.”
In an interview, Lopez spoke proudly of the increase in veteran membership, which was at seven when he started two years ago and is now at 30 members, and the fact that even though they’ve hit a roadblock, they will continue working to bring more aid to not only veterans on campus but off campus as well.
“We’re not giving up on the dream or vision of having some form of VA clinic somewhere here in Pasadena, at least,” Lopez said. “We have a lot of support. I’ll be honest; from the time that I’ve started here we’ve never had so much support from our own veterans club. It’s expanded a lot so we’re obviously doing something right and people are seeing that and for them to participate at board meetings, it means a lot. It means that we’re involved, we’re getting more involved.”